Cities and towns strapped for cash. Developers hungry for profit. Residents looking for jobs and economic growth. It’s certainly fertile ground for casino developments and other forms of legalized gambling to take root.
Gambling revenues are often promoted as a silver-bullet solution to endemic community problems and financial shortfalls. But the vision of coffers brimming over with cash makes promises it can never fulfill – lasting satisfaction, freedom from want, and collective progress. There’s no question that the spin of a roulette wheel, either for a town’s benefit or for personal gain, is a poor substitute for genuine hope and aspiration after progress.
The collective wisdom of the ancients in many faith traditions has addressed this money-is-the-answer habit of thinking. Truisms characterizing the fleeting nature of riches, such as “Riches certainly make themselves wings” (Proverbs 23:5), echo down through history and across all cultures. In this vein, it is inspiring to see major faith communities today – Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish – take to the streets and airwaves to argue against the expansion of gambling, most recently in my home state of Massachusetts. In Revere, Mass., voters gave the go-ahead for a $1.3 billion casino project. In other Massachusetts towns, however, such as East Boston, Milford, and Palmer, voters soundly defeated pro-gambling ballot questions.
Christ Jesus certainly wasn’t a betting man. Instead, he offered humanity a path of certain progress and happiness, devoid of chance – what some might call a “sure bet.” This path is commonly referred to as the Beatitudes. Each statement includes a magnificent promise, not only for a future time, but in the here and now of God’s presence. Here are several, from Matthew, Chapter 5:
- “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Those grieving over loss of some kind, or perhaps fearing future prospects, can find guaranteed comfort through the understanding of divine Love’s omnipresence and guidance, which Jesus came to reveal to us. When the heart is aching, God’s mothering presence is ever at hand, and offers so much more than the speculative ways of the world.
- “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” It is not greed or scrambling for personal gain, but it is the qualities of meekness, humility, self-denial, and service to others that are pleasing to God, and that alone constitute our imperishable inheritance of joy. No one can feel truly happy or blessed seeking wealth at the expense of another’s loss.
- “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” To be “filled” is to be whole, satisfied, complete. Because we truly are spiritual beings, the very reflections of God, who is Spirit, things of the flesh – money, material possessions, selfish pursuits – do not ultimately satisfy. The real man created in the image of Spirit is logically attracted only to the “fruits of the Spirit” referred to in the Bible as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23, New Revised Standard Version).
- “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” We will receive in kind for what we do. Communities and governments should be in the “mercy” business and in nothing else. The apostle Paul counseled against putting a “stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in [our] brother’s way” (Romans 14:13).
The noble, spiritual qualities indicated in the Beatitudes, lived individually and collectively, have been demonstrated throughout the ages to bring progress and blessings to individuals and communities far beyond any sums promised on a casino blueprint or convenience-store scratch card. They require us to reach deep into our hearts – not into our wallets – to receive our God-given heritage. There’s no gamble in that.